Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Agent for a Day Recap #1

Along with throngs of countless other writers, I participated in Nathan Bransford's "Agent for a Day" contest. The rules were straightforward: read 50 queries and post either a rejection or full manuscript request in the comments section below each letter. Only five could be chosen. Simple enough?

Not at all. Not even close.

After going through 28 letters, I requested 1, rejected 23, and put 4 aside to read again later.

Only 22 more to go.

What I've learned so far:

1 - Rejecting isn't as hard as I thought it would be. Sorry, it just wasn't.
2 - An engaging first paragraph is key.
3 - Too much detail is annoying. Keep it to one page and remember "economy of words."
4 - Only when vacillating, did I really care about credentials.
5 - My personal taste in genre played a major role in my decision, even when I tried to not let it.
6 - Flattery gets you somewhere. Well, at least a more personalized rejection.
7 - Minor grammatical mistakes in the presence of a tremendous story were overlooked.
8 - Rhetorical questions should be avoided. Let me say it again. They should be deleted and never brought back. Ever.
9 - Overly dramatic content is bad. Really bad.
10 - Coming across like an idiot who sells himself above the project leads to a fast rejection with no regrets.

With a little over half read, the most important lesson I've gleaned is this:

It's nothing personal, it's just your query letter.

I'll be sure to post my final thoughts when completed with the assignment. My 4 "on the fence" queries were surprisingly awesome. Being restricted to 5 presented an incredible challenge... and there's still more to go.

Maybe the lesson Nathan was REALLY trying to teach all of us is to make your story stand out and grab your reader's attention from the first line. In this new economy, good enough is nowhere near publishable and if you can't intrigue an agent off the bat, there will be many more after that will.

Thanks for reading. Comment freely.


  1. What a great lesson! Thanx for your analysis.

  2. Very interesting! Looking forward to the rest of your thoughts on this.

  3. I wasn't going to participate in this....but now you've intrigued me. I'm exciting to see the really great query letters, hopefully it will help while writing my own. Thanks for this post Hilabeans :)

  4. You did a great job summing up what you've learned so far. All of those are so true. And if more than one of us is thinking this, then you know most agents are, too.

  5. #3 was a BIG one for me!!! I posted my experience in my own blog today. It was definitely a learning experience. I'm interested to know what manuscripts you requested!!!

  6. Now take query letter process one step further and continue pretending you're the agent. After you reading the synopsis, you're tainted (preconditioned may be a better word) expecting the manuscript to follow the same flow and style of the one page summary. Many writers pay for a professional query letter writer and still get rejected. Kind of easy to see why, eh? So, if we spend hours upon hours on a one page query letter, cutting, streamlining, and making it as engaging as possible, shouldn't we strive to make our manuscript just as smooth? Food for thought.